Directed by Gregor Jordan, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Anna Paquin, Scott Glenn and Elizabeth McGovern.
Finished in 2001 but delayed because of 9-11 and subsequent US wars with Afghanistan and Iraq, 'Buffalo Soldiers' is no 'We Were Soldiers' or 'Black Hawk Down'. Rather it's a damningly funny indictment of American forces who were stationed in West Germany as the Berlin Wall was about to fall in 1989 - and, given the anti-military slant, it's not surprising that it was sat on by its distributor, Miramax, for a couple of years. Ironically, the portrayal of army life in 'Buffalo Soldiers' is more likely to up the volume of army recruitment than any jingoistic pap.
Narrator Ray Elwood (Phoenix) took the army dollar rather than going down for Grand Theft Auto so it's not surprising that the three things he loves most about Germany are "my Mercedes Benz, no speed limit on the autobahn - and a black market for anything I can get my hands on." Dealing everything from heroin to Mop & Glow floor cleaner, Elwood has his nest well feathered until hard-ass sergeant Robert Lee (Glenn) gets on his tail. To rile Lee up, Elwood starts dating his daughter, sexy army brat Robyn (Paquin) and further complicates matters by falling for her.
'Buffalo Soldiers' portrays an army life where the soldiers have "nothing to kill but time". War may be hell but, for these men, peace is boring - and boredom breeds chaos. As Elwood says, "You ship 400,000 trained killers over to some foreign land, you gotta give them war..." When a soldier is killed during an indoor football match, an accident is staged by throwing his body out a window. During manoeuvres, tanks are full of cigarette smoking junkies who listen to music with more attention than they read the map, causing the tank to plough through a town and drive over a VW Beetle. Most of the time the soldiers are so drugged up that they don't know whether they're in East or West Germany. And all of this is based on reality - situations and events that happened to real US peacekeepers stationed in Germany during the Cold War.
A beefed-up Joaquin Phoenix shows further proof of his talent and versatility here, bringing an element of vulnerability to the amoral wisecracking wheeler- dealer Elwood. There's also a star turn from Ed Harris as a balding, impotent career soldier, complete with a pushy wife (McGovern) who has her own liaison with Elwood. Scott Glenn's sadistic sergeant is truly menacing, all the more so for the way he hides his corruption behind an honourable by-the-books front.
The score, by David Holmes, builds the momentum to an explosive, unexpected finale and director Gregor Jordan keeps a tight reign on proceedings throughout. Smart, satirical and very, very funny, 'Buffalo Soldiers' is a hard-hitting portrayal of the US Army's finest.